State Supreme Court rejects case of fired WSSU football coach

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  • The state Supreme Court will not take up a case involving Winston-Salem State University's 2019 decision to fire its football coach. A unanimous state Appeals Court had ruled against former coach Kienus Boulware.
  • Boulware argued that university officials failed to follow proper procedure when they fired him.
  • The dismissal followed an argument between two players that extended from the football field to a dorm room. University leaders said Boulware should have notified campus police about the possible involvement of a gun during the player's dispute.

The state Supreme Court will not review the 2019 firing of Winston-Salem State University’s head football coach. Kienus Boulware had argued that the university failed to follow proper procedure when it dismissed him.

The high court’s latest petitions list issued Friday indicated that justices rejected Boulware’s request to hear the case.

“The underlying subject matter of the appeal has significant public interest in the field of public employment and involves legal principles of major significance to the State, but especially for the 48,000 employees of the University of North Carolina System, who depend on the work of non-judicial committees to find facts regarding to the circumstances that their employer utilized to justify their termination from employment,” according to a petition for discretionary review filed in August with the NC Supreme Court..

Boulware had asked the high court to reverse a unanimous decision from the state Court of Appeals.

Winston-Salem State fired Boulware in 2019 after a dispute between two players extended from the football field to their shared dorm room. University officials accused Boulware of failing to notify campus police that a gun might have been involved in the students’ fight.

Boulware’s Supreme Court petition outlined the coach’s version of the case’s facts. Informed of the initial scuffle at the football field, Boulware “did not witness any physical altercation and was able to establish and maintain order upon arrival,” according to the petition. “Both players seemed to calm down.”

Later, at the dorm room, Boulware met an assistant coach. “The two coaches went into the players’ room and were able to defuse and de-escalate the situation,” wrote Christopher Watford, Boulware’s lawyer. “Coach Boulware never witnessed either player physical assault the other and observed no injuries to either player.”

“Coach Boulware asked whether a weapon was present and all occupants of the room denied the presence of a weapon or that one was involved in the altercation. No weapon was visible or located,” Watford wrote.

The coach attempted to contact the school’s athletic director, his immediate supervisor, “after tensions subsided.” Unable to reach the AD, he contacted an associate athletic director and the director of student conduct.

Boulware reported the “possible mention” of a gun. Later, a student “made the unsubstantiated claim that one of the football players involved in the altercation ‘pulled out a gun and he told Coach Boulware about it,’” according to the state Supreme Court petition. The student’s report prompted a call to campus police. The campus police chief later interviewed Boulware about the incident.

Nineteen days after the incident, WSSU’s chancellor issued an initial notice of intent to fire Boulware. The university argued that Boulware failed to fulfill his duties as an official Campus Security Authority under the federal Clery Act. Boulware should have reported the incident immediately to campus police, university officials said.

Boulware’s state Supreme Court petition disputed the university’s case.

“[T]he facts and the law clearly establish that Coach Boulware never violated any provision of the Clery Act as Winston-Salem State University officials repeatedly alleged during this process,” Watford wrote. “The Clery Act does not dictate how, when, or to whom an employee designated as a CSA makes a report thus, there is no way that a failure to make an immediate report of suspected behavior that might rise to the level of a reportable crime is actionable or can be construed as a ‘violation’ of the act.”

“The Clery Act does not state a CSA has to report information to university police, let alone that a CSA is under a legal duty to immediately report unconfirmed speculative allegations to campus police,” Watford added. “In fact, the Clery Act specifically cautions that its provisions should not be construed to place any legal obligation on any parties, other than the Institution.”

The Appeals Court ruled against Boulware on July 5.

“Boulware fails to identify any conflicts in the evidence or testimony and does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence as not supporting any specific findings of fact,” wrote Judge John Tyson.

“Boulware testified he was aware of the possibility of a gun being involved in the altercation between his players, yet instead of contacting law enforcement, he engaged with numerous people, including the agitated players and the father of one of the players inside the dorm for over two hours,” Tyson added. “Despite being made aware of the potential presence of a gun, Boulware never searched for one nor informed university police of this allegation. This testimony alone is a substantial violation, and his failure to comply risked serious harm or even death of students, staff, or the public.”

“Clear and substantial evidence of a violation of Boulware’s contractual obligations was presented and substantiated his termination,” Tyson wrote.

Judges Hunter Murphy and Michael Stading joined Tyson’s opinion.